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‘Negative’ outlook for Gulf sovereign ratings in 2018, says Moody’s

Bahrain’s debt is expected to approach 100 percent of GDP by 2019. (Reuters)
DUBAI: The outlook this year for sovereign ratings in the GCC is “negative,” according to ratings agency Moody’s in a new report highlighting geopolitical risks and muted economic growth as factors undermining the creditworthiness of the region.
“Although oil prices have risen significantly from their lows in early 2016, most sovereigns in the region will continue to run sizable fiscal deficits and record an increase in their debt burdens over the next 12 to 18 months,” said Steffen Dyck, vice president as senior credit officer at Moody’s.
“In addition, long-standing geopolitical event risks have come to the fore again and will play an important role in defining sovereign credit quality in 2018.”
The report forecast a slight increase in GDP growth of close to 2 percent this year across the GCC.
While regional government debt burdens are set to rise, the report said, the speed of growth will vary from country to country. Bahrain’s debt is expected to approach 100 percent of GDP by 2019.
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia’s debt burdens are forecast to increase, but at lower levels in comparison to Bahrain, according to the report. Qatar and the UAE’s debt is expected to stabilize in 2018 and 2019.
Regional geopolitical tensions are likely to persist in 2018, with Moody’s anticipating that the diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar by the Saudi Arabia-led group of Arab countries will continue throughout 2018 and possibly longer.
Three out of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries currently have negative rating outlooks, according to Moody’s, with the remaining countries having stable outlooks.
This is an improvement compared to the start of 2017 when four out of six had negative outlooks. Qatar, Oman and Bahrain all saw their credit rating downgraded last year by Moody’s.

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